Oregon’s Dark Side Is In The Spotlight And It’s Bad News For Women

Foundation study exposed Oregon's dark side

Women’s Foundation Of Oregon

Oregon is not quite the liberal paradise that many would believe. The state’s dark side is especially dangerous for women.

Oregon has a reputation as a liberal heaven. But in the last week, a stark portrait of the state’s dark side has emerged. The conclusion is that, for many women, Oregon more often resembles hell.

A New Study Illuminated The State’s Dark Side

The Women’s Foundation of Oregon conducted an exhaustive survey of the conditions of women’s lives, using techniques like an examination of statistics, over 1,000 interviews of women state-wide, and an evaluation of the number of women in elective offices.

The organization’s report, Count Her In, was released on Wednesday. Among its shocking findings:

  • Oregon women have the highest rate of reported depression in the country.
  • They also have the highest rate of alcohol use in the nation.
  • Women in Oregon are twice as likely to attempt suicide as men.
  • More than 50% have been the victim of sexual or domestic violence.
  • They earn between 53 and 83 cents for every dollar earned by white men. Latinas fared the worst, at 53 cents.
  • The poverty rate for females of color is nearly twice the rate of white females.
  • Child care in Oregon is among the least affordable in the nation, with one year costing the equivalent of a year’s tuition at a public university.
  • Hundreds of thousands of women have inadequate access to reproductive healthcare services. The rate of unintended pregnancies — over 50% of all pregnancies — has barely budged in 20 years.

Sue Hildick, the foundation’s board chair, said:

When you read this list, it’s just irrefutable that Oregon has a problem with gender equity. And it’s deep.

Portland’s Black Marks Are Just As Deep, And Dark

Just how deep was brought home to Portland early in September like a smack over the head with a 2×4. In a related story, local indie rock musician Joel Magid went public with a confession, on Facebook, that he had sexually assaulted a woman.

That confession was shocking enough, but what has come after is even more so. The depth and breadth of the sexual abuse of women — in just the indie rock scene alone — has ricocheted around the city, the state, and the nation.

First, the accusations against Magid multiplied. Then stories of other sexual assaults by Portland musicians came pouring out from women whose accusations have either been repressed or unheeded. Their stories shattered the illusion of Portland’s idyllic music scene and exposed the city’s own dark side.

Musician Ali Muhareb was apparently one of those completely in the dark about conditions for women. He told The Oregonian:

I didn’t know … how many of my friends were victims of sexual crime. I just imagined Portland was this utopian society and that these kinds of things, we were all above that… Even Joel Magid, I had no clue that any of the men in this community were capable of sexual violence.

That’s a refrain that’s all too common: ‘I had no clue.’ Life can seem pretty ideal — to men — when 2/3 of victims of sexual assault are too frightened or intimidated to report such crimes. However, it’s far from ideal when 70% of women interviewed for the foundation’s study told researchers that they are dealing with a mental health issue that affects their jobs, homes, and/or health.

The Future Is A Mixed Bag, But There Is Hope

Emily Evans, the director of the Women’s Foundation of Oregon, expressed mixed feelings about the future for women in the state:

There is a reckoning coming. We have this perception of ourselves as a progressive state and a great place to live. When we dive into the data, we’re finding it’s incredibly challenging for women and girls in Oregon, more challenging than it is in many, if not most, other states. But there is something hopeful about finally knowing the full measure of the problem.

Even though the study also found that women are seriously underrepresented on county commissions — the governmental bodies that distribute resources — the results have stunned some politicians into promises of action. State representative Knute Butler is also a physician who has worked on issues of women’s health, including making it easier for women to get birth control prescriptions. Butler promised to use the report to push for further gains in mental health and suicide prevention.

The new is not all grim. The foundation also found that Oregon women vote at higher rates that the state’s men, as well as at higher rates than women in most states. If the solutions to Oregon’s dark side are political, women are in a good position to shine a light on them.

Nationally, the report couldn’t have come at a better time — six weeks before November’s elections. There’s never been a better year for women’s voices to be raised.

Feature photo from Women’s Foundation Of Oregon on Facebook.

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Deborah Montesano

Deborah Montesano is a political blogger and social activist. In spite of years of monitoring the political scene in America, she remains optimistic about the future.
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